Last October I had the opportunity of facilitating a Serra Seniors gathering on the “wisdom of seniors” and the following is a reflection on the experience.
In the bible, Job 12 says this: "Is wisdom with the aged, and understanding in length of days?" The question is rhetorical, because the answer was obvious: of course (or in today's lingo, "Duh!"). What was so obvious to other generations and other cultures has gotten lost in our generation and our culture. Older Americans have accepted the condescending and dismissive narrative that they are permanently in weekend mode, that now is the time for endless play and being entertained. Your services, your insight, your wisdom -- in short, you -- are no longer needed.
But in almost every society, the elderly are revered and consulted for their wisdom. All the great thinkers like Aristotle in the west and Confucius urge consulting the elderly on how to live or what gives life meaning, Don't consult the young; they have not lived enough. When Jesus is praised by the crowd for speaking with authority (Mt 7), they were perhaps praising him for having wisdom beyond his years, as Jesus was praised as a 12-year-old (Lk 2) for having wisdom beyond his years.
Retired people don't have to be retired. They don't even have to be tired! Sometimes an old person is asked to tell her life story. The old person can also be asked to tell what she has learned about life by living. The old person can be consulted for his philosophy, not just for his biography.
Here's advice from a popular self-help book: "Be true to your word." You need to buy a book for that? Old people don't have to read self-help books; they can write them. Seniors don't have to be told what to do; they know. The goal is not to feel better, but to think better.
Wisdom cannot be reduced to little sayings. Those little sayings need explanation, examples, and support -- as well as warnings about when they should be ignored. Each of these little sayings is the beginning of an insight, not the insight itself. Here is a small sample of wisdom from seniors here at Padre Serra, with suggestions on how to continue the insights.
You don't have to be old to start systematically questioning your own beliefs -- not so that you will give them up, but so that you understand them.
That verse from Job we started with is followed immediately by this one: "With God are wisdom and strength; God has counsel and understanding." Any wisdom we have is a gift from God. Pray for wisdom. When God favors you with it, write it down. Consult God, not a self-help book. Here is the final piece of advice. Have a regular prayer time each day that cannot be interrupted by anything.
Dr. Janice Daurio